Dancing with his girl
Stan Kudla loved to twirl his wife across a ballroom floor, swinging to the rhythm of a big band song. Graceful and confident, the lithe couple especially enjoyed Latin steps, like the cha-cha and rumba. They danced together for close to 40 years, first at weekly lessons and eventually in dance-themed trips across the country and abroad. For them the appeal wasn’t in competitions or awards, but rather to have fun together and with friends. It was a fitting hobby for the two, considering they first met at a dance hall in Chicago in 1950.
Service in the Navy during WWII
Stan was born the seventh of 10 children on the South Side of Chicago. His parents immigrated from Poland in the early 1900s, and his father worked as a milkman at a dairy. As a child, Stan would help his father deliver milk from a horse-drawn cart. He attended the Catholic school at St. Bruno’s Church, and occasionally, he and his twin brothers would pull pranks on the school nuns. After World War II started, Stan left high school at the age of 17 to enlist in the Navy. He spent two years as a seaman helping run the engine of a massive tank-landing ship. The ship carried tanks, cargo and troops to invade islands in the Pacific that had no piers or docks. The ship had a huge cargo door that swung down with a ramp, allowing tanks to roll out directly on the beach. Stan helped open the cargo door, which was sometimes dangerous work. Although his ship never came under attack, he told stories of others who worked on similar ships that had been torpedoed, either by air or by submarine.
Marrying Bea and family fishing trips
Stan returned to Chicago after his service and met his future wife, Bernice (Bea), while socializing at a dance. The two were smitten and married less than a year later. Stan and Bea bought a house in a southwestern neighborhood of Chicago and raised three children: Karen, Roy and Diane. Stan landed a job with ComEd, an Illinois electric company, and worked there for about 40 years, helping run the control room to ensure power was flowing. Stan loved to take his young family on summer fishing trips. He’d pack everyone into the car and drive, oftentimes to a cottage on a lake in Wisconsin or Minnesota. To make the ride more comfortable, he fashioned a bench over the hump in the back seat, so his children had more space to lie down. Once they arrived, Stan would spend hours with his children on a boat, patiently helping them hook worms, cast lines and reel in the bluegill and perch.
An outdoorsman, Stan loved to swim, bike and walk. And, of course, dance, which he did with his wife throughout their 65-year marriage. His biggest challenge has been dealing with the loss of his wife, who died in March 2016. Stan enjoys family gatherings. For decades, he’s carried a camera at holiday meals and took pictures of all the relatives. He relished watching his children, and eventually grandchildren and great-grandchildren, open presents and play together. A common refrain of his is, “I just want you all to be happy.”